I can’t believe it’s almost the 4th of July! Even in this place of permanent summer, the July holiday represents a psychological downslope toward Fall and all it entails: shorter days, busier schedules, and dare I whisper it…the holidays. 😮 However, to quote our wise old patriot, Ben Franklin, “Do not anticipate trouble…… keep in the sunlight.” Today I’ll take his advice and show you some spidery specimens growing in my rear garden.
This viney shrub from tropical Africa, Strophanthus Preussii, is commonly known as “spiders tresses” and grows up to 13′ tall. The flowers’ ovate petals narrow into tails up to 11″ long. The next photo gives you a better look at the plant’s striking foliage; notice too, the additional offshoots where more of the unusual flowers are forming:
Multiple traditional uses of Strophanthus preussii have been recorded in several African countries. Nigerian tribes use the plant’s stems to construct hunting bows. In Zaire, the sap is used medicinally to treat wounds and induce labor in pregnant women. In Gabon, the young leaves are cooked and eaten as a vegetable.
Not all uses of Spider’s Tresses are for the common good, however!
Strophanthus species contain cardiac glycosides that increase blood flow around the heart. In large amounts these glycosides are poisonous and have been used historically in poison arrow concoctions. Crazy stuff!
Thankfully, my next spidery specimen has NO nefarious uses:
Typically these Brassia Maculatas (aka Spider Orchids) open toward the end of August, and once, even as late as November! I was VERY surprised to see blooms before July 4th!!
The Brassia is an epiphytic orchid native to the wet forests of Central/South America, and named after 19th century British botanical illustrator, William Brass. Their spidery look gives Brassias a distinct reproductive advantage. Parasitic wasps who typically lay their eggs on spiders, get confused by the orchid’s appearance and land on the flowers instead. As the wasps flit from plant to plant, they create one of nature’s best win-win situations: the wasps reproduce, the brassias get pollinated, and a few very lucky 8 legged insects are saved in the process! Wait…..that’s win-win-win! 😉
To learn more about orchids check out the American Orchid Society Website.
Until next time…..
🙂 🙂 🙂
- June 23rd – The Orchid (pylonmeadow.wordpress.com)
- Orchid show takes mystery out of growing them (news-journalonline.com)